May 27, 2009 9:04 AM
Air Force Angel Of Death?
Air Force nurse Capt. Michael Fontana in a 2007 booking photo after an arrest for highway racing in San Antonio.
(AP Photo )
SAN ANTONIO (AP) An Air Force nurse charged in the deaths of three terminally ill patients at a base hospital was set to appear in military court for a hearing to decide whether the case merits a court-martial.
Capt. Michael Fontana, 35, was charged with murder for allegedly giving lethal amounts of medication to patients in his care last summer at Wilford Hall Medical Center. The hospital at Lackland Air Force Base is the largest in the Air Force.
Fontana, who officials have said is the first Air Force medical personnel member in at least 10 years to be accused of deliberately killing a patient, is also charged with conduct unbecoming an officer for allegedly altering a medical record.
Air Force officials have declined to release the identity of the alleged victims, but have said none were active-duty military personnel.
The Article 32 hearing scheduled to begin Wednesday is similar to a civilian grand jury, determining if there is sufficient evidence to send the case to a court-martial.
Since the Air Force announced the charges in March, Fontana has repeatedly declined comment and did not return a message left at his San Antonio home Tuesday. He has continued to work in the hospital but has not been allowed contact with patients or records.
Fontana worked as an intensive care nurse at Wilford Hall, which primarily serves military personnel and retirees but provides emergency and trauma care to some civilians. The facility has 26 ICU beds.
Air Force officials say an investigation began in August after another staff member discovered irregularities in Fontana's administration of medications that may have resulted in the death of a terminally ill patient.
Based on Bexar County medical records, one of the alleged victims appears to be a 74-year-old stroke victim who died Aug. 5, the same day Fontana was removed from patient care.
The autopsy report for Dorothy Marie Gray states that she died from a fatal dose of morphine and lorazepam, an anti-anxiety medication.
"The circumstances of the death suggest that the medications were administered to purposefully precipitate death; therefore, the manner of death is homicide," the report reads.
Fontana, who previously worked as an EMT nurse in Austin, has been in the Air Force since 2006 and served a tour at the military hospital in Balad, Iraq, from August to December 2007. The Texas Board of Nursing lists Fontana as a registered nurse since 2000 and has no current disciplinary action against him.